All year, the calls have been coming: The Board of Trustees is doing a terrible job of listening to the Penn State community. It willfully ignores what the Penn State community has to say, according to some. It doesn’t make an effort to open itself up to comment or criticism, others note.
A consistent point of criticism is that the board’s out-of-touch and governing the university within a vacuum — it makes poor decisions and offers little chance for any kind of dialogue with the thousands of people affected by those actions.
So, after the trustees approved a public comment section earlier this summer, set to debut as part of today’s meeting, it should have been safe to assume the number of people seeking out a chance to talk would be well over capacity, judging by the endless stream of criticism thrown the board’s way on social media and elsewhere in public.
We were initially concerned that the original guidelines for this new public comment session, which capped the number of public speakers at 10 and the total public comment time slot at 30 minutes, wouldn’t be nearly enough. As it turns out, we were wrong.
Instead, seven people signed up to speak. That’s right: Seven.
To put that into perspective, that’s not even a fraction of the size of most Penn State classes.
That’s far fewer people than those who “liked” a Facebook page for today’s Penn State Rally 4 Resignations, whose organizers are demanding the resignations of Gov. Tom Corbett, Penn State President Rodney Erickson and the trustees. It’s certainly far fewer people than the number who are voicing their discontent with the board from the comfort of sitting behind a computer screen on most days.
For what it’s worth, that’s fewer people than what’s usually waiting in the line at to get coffee in the HUB-Robeson Center on any given morning.
On a campus of about 96,000, out of a pool of about 557,000 living alumni, only seven
people signed up to take advantage of a previously unprecedented chance to speak directly to the most powerful group of people at our university at one of the most pivotal times in its history.
The addition of a public comment session is not a significant means of improving trustees’ accessibility. But the way we see it, the Penn State community wasted an opportunity — however small — handed to it by the trustees.
Based on the response, or lack thereof, this time around, the board should extend the window to sign up for public comment before the next board meeting. It should also promote the opportunity more heavily, if it’s really serious about reaching out for more input.
In order for this public comment session to be even marginally effective, the Penn State community needs to pull its weight. You want to complain? Fine. But, at the very least, we should have seen more than seven people sign up to take their issues directly to the board.
So the next time you’re about to rant about the trustees’ actions or inaction, we hope those complaints don’t stop there — if you’re serious about changing the board, it’s time to show it.